It seems that everyone is interested in food these days -- from supermodels such as Chrissy Teigen to our very own President Obama to everyone on Instagram posting food photos. Because of this surge of interest in the food world and its inextricable link to the Internet, trends seem to completely consume food culture, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse. From food deserts to culinary mashups, here are a few trends that we hope to say goodbye to in 2015.
With the new year upon us, there'll no doubt be plenty of folks ponying up for juice cleanses in an attempt to detoxify themselves of their holiday wrongs. But you'd be hard pressed to find any real benefits to the cold-pressed juice diet. In fact these expensive elimination fasts, which exclude solid food anywhere from one day to a couple of weeks, can actually do more harm than good. Put simply by Slate: "We need protein and fat in our diets. We also need to consume enough calories to reassure our bodies we aren't starving, or we risk all kinds of metabolic and electrical freak-outs. Plus, liquefying fruits and vegetables means getting rid of fiber, which aids digestion by sustaining the microflora in our gut." In other words, chew on.
This popular diet calls on our Paleolithic ancestors as guides for optimal performance, and asserts that humans should be consuming mostly meat, nuts, fruits and veggies, with little to no grains, legumes, or dairy. The problem is, according to Michael Pollan and TED Fellow Dr. Christina Warinner, the types of domesticated meat and veggies that we consume today is far different from what Paleolithic man consumed. And as a recent Opinion L.A. post stated, "We eat for longevity. Cavemen ate for survival -- that is, to live long enough to reproduce and see offspring to the point where they could take care of themselves." Much as Paleolithic man may have loved 32-ounce grass-fed, dry-aged, bone-in rib-eye every night, that probably wasn't the scenario. Still, the most sound advice regarding dietary plans remains Pollan's: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
Since Dominique Ansel’s cronut went viral, it seems a day doesn’t go by without the creation of another food hybrid. The mashup has really become a cook’s cheap trick. Ramenburgers, hot dog donuts, chocolate fried chicken, and Cheeto macarons have all gotten media attention -- the list of these demented centaurs of the food world goes on and on. What kind of example are these culinary monstrosities setting when we still have so far to go in terms of tackling childhood obesity and Type 2
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 23.5 million people live in food deserts, or urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. That lack of access contributes to our alarming rate of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Of course, simply building a store with more healthful food doesn't immediately resolve those issues, as illustrated by last year's Health Affairs study in Philadelphia. Hopefully in 2015, there will be more policies that facilitate education around how to cook and eat well, and more advertisements and food media that promote balanced, healthful lifestyles.
Additional staff surcharges
In 2014, a handful Los Angeles-area restaurants caused a stir by adding well-intentioned surcharges onto customers' tabs. Repubique, Melisse, and AOC added a mandatory 3% for healthcare for their employees, and Alimento tacked a second gratuity line so that customers could tip the oft-underpaid kitchen staff in addition to their servers. While it's commendable that restaurateurs are taking a step toward facilitating fairer living wages, this approach creates an uncomfortable end-of-meal environment for diners. Republique restaurateur Bill Chait told The Times that adding the amount into the cost of food would risk driving away customers, and could also mean higher taxes, and higher rent because the rent is based on monthly revenue. Still, these fees for restaurant operations are all things that previously had been worked into a diner's tab, and being forced or guilted into doing so at the last minute is a bit difficult for many customers to digest.
The best thing since sliced bread, it seems, is sliced bread, toasted. The trend of serving elevated, artisanal-style toasts started in San Francisco at a place appropriately named Trouble, according to Pacific Standard, and has since made its way to the rest of the states with every breakfast, brunch, and dinner menu offering some take on toast. And it's not cheap. Unless you're one of those home cooks who burns toast, it's a bit whacky to spend so much on avocado haphazardly smooshed on some bread.
All kale everything
Kale has been hailed as a superfood, and it's de rigueur to offer a kale salad on your menu. The leafy green gets the royal treatment, being massaged before each dressing. Turns out, according to a recent report by the CDC, "Defining Powerhouse Fruits and Vegetables: A Nutrient Density Approach," there are heaps of fruits and veggies more healthful than kale. (The top three, for the record, were watercress, Chinese cabbage, and chard. Kale was ranked No. 15.) It's time some other greens got some love, and to remember that the key to keeping a balanced ecosystem is to eat a variety of foods.
Uni, uni everywhere
Just as bacon had its heyday, sea urchin is having its. The coveted delicacy, which is actually the gonads of the spiny sea creature, has made its way out of the sushi bar, and is now being put on everything from pizza to guacamole to the aforementioned $10 toast, many times in dishes far too pungent to allow its delicate, briny sweetness to shine through. But its recent popularity with gourmands means that it could suffer the same threat of overfishing experienced by bluefin tuna. According to the Atlantic, "In Nova Scotia, the [sea urchin] catch dropped from about $2.5 million in 2000 to less than $890,000 last year. In Maine, the industry was once valued at $35 million annually but is now worth about $5 million." The Nova Scotian drop-offs aren't only due to overfishing; an invasive kelp is also cited as being part of the problem. Locally, our urchin is harvested in Santa Barbara and the Channel Islands, where fortunately the problematic kelp hasn't been found. Still, overfishing -- and over use of an ingredient -- is never a good trend to get on.
Dave Asprey created his recipe for a cultural phenomenon based on the yak butter tea he experienced while hiking in Tibet. His trendsetting recipe includes low-mold coffee beans, grass fed unsalted butter, and one to two tablespoons of medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, a type of easily digestible fat that he told The New York Times "suppresses hunger, promotes weight loss and provides mental clarity." Many celebs and athletes have jumped on the Bullet train, and Asprey will be opening his first Los Angeles cafe in the first quarter of 2015. Though we're happy to see that reasonable consumption of butter and fat is no longer the bad guy, we'll stick to the cream, please.
Lists like these
Lists make information easier to consume on the Internet, but contrary to what might be perceived, they sometimes take longer to compile, and require a whole lot of gear switching as a writer. They don't allow for a true in-depth exploration that long-form writing might, but based on the readership numbers, people love reading and commenting on them. It's a double-edged sword. Creating "best of" and trend lists throughout the year as a food writer means you're basically handing a road map to restaurateurs and publicists, showing them what's cool and newsworthy, which then gets exploited to the nth degree.
Krista Simmons is a culinary travel reporter and TV personality based in Los Angeles. You can follow her at kristasimmons.com.